The Egyptian government has extended voting in the country's presidential election to a third day, and warned voters they will be fined if they do not cast ballots.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlib's announcement that the vote for president had been extended through Wednesday caught many Egyptians by surprise. The government had already declared Tuesday a public holiday. to spur reluctant voters to turn out, and top Christian and Muslim religious figures urged people to cast their ballots.
Coptic Pope Shenouda told journalists that citizens should vote even if they do not like the choice of candidates, because their participation adds to the credibility of the election:
"It is important to vote in numbers, because a strong turnout adds to the credibility of the vote. Voters who do not like the candidates still have a duty to vote because the election will help stabilize the nation and build democracy," said Pope Shenouda.
Scenes of enthusiasm were visible in many places. At a women's polling station in the Cairo working-class district of Imbaba, a throng of women wearing headscarves cheered and ululated as voters lined up outside.
Government offices, banks and the stock market were closed by official decree and the normally thick week-day traffic was absent from most major thoroughfares.
In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, music blared from loudspeakers at a polling station, but crowds dwindled under the heavy mid-day sun.
In the port city of Marsa Matrouh, voter Abdallah Abdel Latif insisted he and his friends decided to vote in order to fulfill the official “roadmap” towards a return to democracy, which former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el Sissi put forth last July after ousting the increasingly unpopular Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
"The heat had turned back many voters Monday, but it had cooled off slightly Tuesday and people were voting normally," said Latif.
At a polling station in the district of Manoufiya, north of Cairo, local electoral head Wa'el Omran said the vote was going smoothly and he anticipated no problems:
Electoral commission head Tarek Shibl told Egyptian TV there were few complaints of irregularities in voting, and that he did not anticipate any delays in announcing results for that reason.
Judges and polling-station officials were asked to return to their posts for the third day of voting, but the government has not proclaimed it a holiday.
Former Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who is facing leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, is expected to win the election by a wide margin, but his supporters are hoping for a high turnout.